California Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce

Dissolving the life you have built with your spouse, whether over a period of only a few years, may seem an almost insurmountable task. One household must now become two – tangled finances must become untangled; property must be divided. Such tasks are further complicated when children are involved. Where will the children live? How will their medical, education, and other expenses be covered?

Although most divorces in California are no-fault divorces — citing irreconcilable differences as the legal ground for dissolution of the marriage — that does not mean that most divorces are uncontested. While the grounds of divorce may not attribute fault to either party, the parties may disagree on the details of the divorce settlement, leading to a contested divorce.

Below we detail the difference between a California uncontested and contested divorce. Read on to learn more about whether you can proceed with filing an uncontested divorce.

California Uncontested Divorce Types

If you and your spouse are able to reach an agreement on all aspects of your divorce settlement, you can proceed with an uncontested divorce.

Summary Dissolution. If you have been married for less than five years, have no children with your spouse, own no real estate together, and have limited assets, you may be eligible for a summary dissolution. This is a quick and simple process for dissolving a marriage and is a good option in the limited circumstances described here.

Uncontested Divorce. Even if the criteria for a summary dissolution are not met, you may proceed with the divorce on an uncontested basis if you and your spouse have agreed to all aspects of the settlement, including the division of community property (assets and debts), child custody and support, and spousal support. You can choose who will file for divorce to begin the process. The non-filing spouse may then file an answer in which no objection to the divorce is stated. You and your spouse will need to draft and execute a written agreement that covers all issues that would normally be determined by a court; child custody, visitation and support, division of property, spousal support, or a waiver of spousal support, and any other issues you wish to include. No discovery should be needed beyond the required Preliminary Disclosure and other declarations.

California Contested Divorce 

If you cannot agree on one or more aspects of the divorce settlement with your spouse, the divorce may be contested. In a contested divorce, one party files the initial divorce petition and the other party is given a certain period of time to respond (30 days). After the complaint and initial response have been filed, the process of discovery begins.

During the discovery process, the parties produce evidence regarding their finances, the contributions each has made to the marriage, both financially and otherwise, and any other information which may be necessary for a judge to make decisions regarding child custody and support, division of property, etc. The process of discovery in a contested divorce can be lengthy and expensive (one to two years depending on the scope/extent of assets), as it is important for both parties to be represented by competent divorce attorneys.

After the discovery process is completed, one or more hearings will be held in which evidence may be presented by both parties. After all evidence is presented at trial, the judge will determine how the parties’ separate the martial property is to be divided, set child custody and visitation, and order applicable amounts of any child and spousal support.

Can a California Contested Divorce Become Uncontested?

When at all possible, it is in the best interests of both parties to avoid having to go through a contested divorce. Often, neither party is completely satisfied with the result and resent the fact that such important decisions about their lives were made by the judge.

Contested divorces are expensive and can be emotionally devastating for the parties and their children. Most parties try to work out their differences, either before filing for divorce, or during the process. If the parties are able to work things out during the discovery process, the divorce may then proceed on an uncontested basis. Some resources that can be used to help bring about an agreement are:

Family Counseling. Family counseling may allow the parties to repair their marriage making a divorce unnecessary. Even during the divorce process, family counseling can help the parties identify their problems, talk about the issues, and work out solutions.

Mediation. Many parties opt to try mediation either before filing for divorce or during the process. A judge may encourage or even order the parties to attend mediation sessions. The purpose of mediation is to allow both parties an opportunity to talk freely, not only about issues such as finances and custody arrangements, but about their feelings regarding the divorce. Each party is encouraged to try to understand the other so they can work out a settlement in which neither is a “winner” or “loser.”  Parties who have worked out a mutually acceptable settlement are much less likely to have further conflicts after the divorce.

Divorce Attorneys. A divorce attorney can counsel a party on what to expect during the divorce process, including the cost and time involved in both a contested and an uncontested divorce. An attorney can also advise their client about what they can realistically expect from a divorce settlement so the party does not begin the process with expectations that cannot be met. If both parties know their legal rights and responsibilities, and have a realistic idea of what to expect regarding property division, custody, and support, they are better equipped to avoid the cost of a lengthy contested divorce.

SD Esquire Flat Fee Divorce Service

SD Esquire provides flat fee uncontested divorce services. We will prepare the legal documents you need to file for and complete your divorce.  This includes preparing and filling your divorce petition, completing your financial disclsoures, and drafting your marital settlement agreement (MSA). Our uncontested flat fee divorce service starts at $1500 for standard divorce (you are responsible for paying court filling fees).  The fee also includes service of process fees. You can make installment payments as your case progresses. It costs $500 to start your matter. Sign up today to get started.

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